Category Archives: Writing

Ages Ending: The Gospel as Thriller

I spent three years teaching religion to high school students.

Teenagers aren’t the slack minded creatures they’re often depicted as. In fact, I found them to be wildly curious, loyal friends, hilarious,  and enormously sensitive to spirituality and the world of religion.

I like teenagers. A lot.

But one barrier I’ve encountered is that many teenagers, like a lot of adult Christians, aren’t terribly excited about reading scripture.

Don’t get me wrong. They want the content. They clamor for wisdom. They cherish the debates and discussion. But they don’t necessarily want to sit down, open their Bibles, and read the narratives.

Why?

Because they’ve already read it. They know the story. They’ve been taught the lessons. Why read it all again?

After all, Netflix is waiting. And if not Netflix — Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You get it.

Let me tell you a story. When I teach courses on the Old Testament the first homework assignment is to read Genesis 1 and 2 — the opening pages of the Bible.

The next class I ask the students if they did their homework. All the pretty little liars nod, smile, and say: “Yes, of course!”

I ask them to tell me how many creation narratives they found. The students answer almost unanimously: “One.”

I ask them to open their Bibles. I repeat the question.

Same answer is given.

I ask if they were honest about doing their homework. The tension rises. Eye contact is avoided, which I don’t mind because now they’re at least looking down at their Bibles. I ask again.

Silence.

Then I tell them all is well; I know they didn’t read it. I knew they wouldn’t. We share an awkward laugh.

So I ask them to do the reading now, in class. I want to know how many creation narratives they find.

It takes an average of 21 minutes before the first kid realizes there are two narratives within Genesis 1 and 2.

These are smart kids. The problem isn’t that they can’t read. The problem is that they think they already know the story, so they don’t read.

We, all of us, need to read the story again.

Especially the gospel.

How much do we miss because we think we already know the story?

Here’s what I’ve done:

I reimagined the Gospel of Mark as a dystopic thriller.  Basically, I hid the Jesus story within the framework of a larger, action-packed, three-book saga. Which, I know, sounds insane — but it’s not.

Without giving away too much . . . here’s the set up: The United States has fallen. In its place stands an oppressive Kingdom led by the handsome but vicious King Charles who controls North America with an army of foreign mercenaries. After decades of war, the king has finally tamed the once mighty shores.  And the young king will stop at nothing to protect his reign – no matter how many Americans he must hang on a Kingdom cross.

I want to light a spark in people to read scripture by showing them just how thrilling, passionate, and page-turning the story of Jesus Christ actually is.

Think it’ll work?

Ben Fountain

Five years ago I emailed a writer named Ben Fountain.  I had recently finished my first manuscript and I was looking for any every kind of advice I could get about the publishing world. Fortunately for me, I was able to get Mr. Fountain’s email from another writer who said he was open to me reaching out to him. At the time, Mr. Fountain had published a collection of short stories, entitled BRIEF ENCOUNTERS WITH CHE GUEVARA. The collection is nothing short of astounding. And that’s not just my opinion. The book was awarded the ridiculously prestigious Pen/Hemingway award. Anyway, Mr. Fountain responded to my email with haste and carried on a substantive dialogue in the following weeks that served then and now as a guiding light.  I say all this because I recently read his first novel, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK, and it too is marvelous. And again, it’s not just me saying it. This book was named a finalist in the National Book Award contest — which is basically the biggest deal in writing.  If that doesn’t mean much to you, you’ve probably heard of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The screenwriter for that movie is now adapting Mr. Fountain’s novel for the silver screen. He’s that big of a deal. A few months ago I emailed Mr. Fountain again to tell him some good news in my own writing life, and he responded immediately. The man is just as gracious now as he was back then, which is pretty cool considering that many critics believe his book is the most important war book this country has published since CATCH-22.  But here’s the reason I’m telling this story. Five years ago, Mr. Fountain gave me the best advice I’ve ever received when it came to writing. He said, “Write the next thing.” No matter what else you do, he wrote, make sure to go on and write the next thing. Writing, just like life, is a winding road. We never know how long things will take or what they will actually look like when they arrive. All we can do is work hard and hope for the best. Write the next thing.  I have held on to that wisdom with a ferocious grip over the past few years, and I would encourage you to do the same. No matter how many rejections you receive. No matter how frustrated or blocked you might get. No matter how many times you feel inadequate. Shove it down deep and write the next thing. Because you never know, the next thing, might just be the best thing.

 

The Paris Wife

I finished reading THE PARIS WIFE last night, and I loved it.  It’s a wonderfully crafted historical fiction that follows Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, as they navigate the choppy seas of marriage in the 1920s.  The book is set mostly in Paris and Spain where the Hemingways lived, drank, and wrote with other literary expats like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. It’s a truly fantastic love story that looks at marriage intimately through a uniquely brutal psychological lens.  But what really struck me last night after I closed the book was not the novel itself, but rather the short essay the author, Paula McLain, included at the back of the paperback edition. She says a number of notable things in the short piece but I just want to highlight one point in particular. McLain says that once she found Hadley’s voice she began to believe that she could actually write this book that she was “dying” to write. That’s what hit me: she was dying to write this novel.  As a writer, I think that makes all the difference in the world. I am currently writing a novel that I feel the same way about. It is a story that has brewed within me for years, and the time has finally come for it. I, too, am dying to write it, and that has made all the difference. As an artist, there is nothing more exquisite than the singleminded focus that comes from writing a story that simply pours out of you, because if you don’t, you’ll die. Metaphorically, of course, well maybe not.

I wish writers everywhere today that same kind of story. The kind you don’t choose, because it chooses you first.